GreekNews - January 2, 2006
2005 Year in Review: The Ecclesiastical Affairs Worldwide
By H.E. Spyridon, former Archbishop of America
Many important ecclesiastical events transpired in 2005. Unfortunately, most of these events proved distressing and profoundly puzzling to the faithful people of God and in particular to Greek Orthodox believers.
The major issue that literally convulsed the Greek Orthodox world was that of the deplorable changes that were instituted at the Holy Sepulcher. The brash use of both legitimate and illegitimate means in the removal of Patriarch Eirineos of Jerusalem was successful but at the same time resulted in the creation of many negative historical precedents that will weigh heavily on the future of the Patriarchate. Many governments, namely those of Israel, Jordan and, for the first time, even the Palestinian Authority were permitted to become involved in what were heretofore purely church matters. However, it was the Greek government, sustained by a determined contribution of the Greek mass media and the cooperation of a small group of Jerusalem partisan clerics, who played a decisive role in shaping the final outcome. At some point, even certain Orthodox Churches, forced to abandon any idea of defending Patriarch Eirineos under pressure from the Greek government, rushed to officially support the Jerusalem factious churchmen. As a result, recriminations, constant bickering, the occupation of the Patriarchate headquarters by insurgents and other improprieties were fomented even during the holy Easter season, inevitably drawing the attention of the non-Greek mass media and once more exposing Orthodoxy at an international level. However these sad events are viewed, the fact remains that the clumsy handling of the matter by the ringleaders engaged in the "operation" to oust Eirineos opened wide the doors to foreign governments of non-Orthodox religious traditions to blatantly, and henceforth legitimately, meddle in the internal affairs of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Another issue that shook the body of Greek Orthodox believers was the stack of scandals that, suddenly and out of nowhere, emerged in the Church of Greece entailing attacks of all kinds on Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, and his close collaborators. While the Greek mass media were competing against each other as to which would air or print the most anti-Christodoulos news in a hopeless effort to involve the archbishop in every type of irregularity and illegality, voices in the Greek Parliament were becoming ever louder in support of a separation between Church and State --a division sought for quite some time by the European Community. Christodoulos emerged seriously weakened from the attacks while the entire institution of the Church of Greece itself was considerably demeaned. However, the long, intense media attacks on the head of the Church of Greece were so recklessly orchestrated that they managed to convince observers that the true objective was not the loudly cried for purgation of the Church but the complete exhaustion or even removal of an Archbishop who opposed the separation between Church and State. The "scandals" were of course quickly picked up by the mass media outside Greece, once more deeply wounding the prestige of the Greek Orthodox Church worldwide.
The election of a new Pope in Rome, Benedict XVI, rekindled the hopes of many who trust the time has come to override the stagnation in the Orthodox-Roman Catholic theological dialogue and, overall, in the relations between Orthodox and Roman Catholics. Many Orthodox theologians remember Pope Benedict as a young academic very interested in Orthodox theology, and later, while Cardinal of Munich, as member of the Joint Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Of course, in attempting to assess the Bavarian churchman, one must not disregard his most recent capacity as chairman of the Vatican Congregation for the Teaching of the Faith nor should one ignore the ambiguous role played by his department in matters of dialogue. Be it as it may, the new Pope inaugurated his ministry with statements of ecumenical openness, which were greeted enthusiastically by the entire Christian world. It remains to be seen however whether the papal statements were merely expressions of ecumenical courtesy or whether they will actually be retained in the future course the Roman-Catholic Church will follow in matters of dialogue and inter-church relations.
With regard to the Ecumenical Patriarchate one can observe that:
a) important Patriarchal interventions were made in all directions in support of opening discussions on the integration of Turkey as a full member of the European Community. Such initiatives reached an exaggerated crescendo when the Ecumenical Patriarch stressed that "Turkey, with her social and religious structure, will enrich the European Union." The Patriarchal advocacy did not produce the fruit desired by the Phanar as there was no loosening whatsoever of Turkish restrictions on the Patriarchate nor any improvement in the plight of the Greek minority in Turkey. On the contrary, Turkish authorities toughened their traditional position by contesting, once more and in the most provocative manner, the ecumenicity, that is to say the ecumenical character and role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
b) intense efforts were undertaken by the Phanar to achieve the re-opening of the Theological Faculty of Halki. However, these efforts, together with the intervention of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle in America, as well as the "pressure" exerted by the USA on Turkey to re-open Halki all proved, once again, to no avail. Turkey clearly restated her will to authorize the re-opening of the Halki Theological School only as a department or faculty of the State University of Istanbul, a Turkish concession that does not benefit a Patriarchate which rightfully insists on having control over the institution which will train its future point men.
c) there was a noted stagnation in the re-establishment of the traditional structure of the Patriarchate's Synod. Last year, under pressure of developments in the New Lands controversy, some hesitant steps were taken to this effect. However, the new synodical form comprising six hierarchs from Turkey and six from abroad appointed without fixed criteria by the Patriarch, is an innovation in the canonical praxis of the Church and certainly not a definitive solution to the problem. For the time being, those in charge at the Phanar do not appear disposed to re-introduce the traditional synodical status in practice until 1922 and according to which all active hierarchs in charge of dioceses are called, following a pre-established order (syntagmation), to serve as members of the Synod and co-administrators of the Church.